Kayaking in New York State: 8 of the Best Places to Paddle and Canoe

Whether you are a beginning or seasoned kayaker, New York State houses several beautiful waterways that are perfect for any kayaking enthusiast. The state is home to over 70,000 miles of rivers and streams and thousands of freshwater lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. Because of this, you will have no trouble finding a float best suited to you and your kayaking style. 

These lengthy rivers and open lakes offer a variety of scenery that is sure to fit any mood you desire. Just like any other waterway, these floats New York has to offer can be altered to your desired complexity or overall experience in a kayak.

We are going to uncover some of the best kayaking locations in the state and reveal which ones are ideal for your kayaking level and style. 

1. Black River, Watertown, NY

The first kayaking destination on our list is the Black River that runs through Jefferson, Lewis, and Oneida counties. The Black River is divided into three segments: upper (42.6 miles), middle (40 miles), and lower (31 miles). These segments offer a variety of lakes, reservoirs, and dams throughout their entirety.

The hotspot for kayaking along the Black River is in Watertown, NY, in the lower segment. Be forewarned, this stretch of river is not for beginners as it is popular among whitewater rafters and kayakers for its challenging waters. Whitewater kayaking in rough, unpredictable rapids can become very dangerous quickly, even to the most experienced kayakers. 

If you are not one for taking on the river rapids, the upper and middle segments of the Black River offer much calmer, even swamp-like waters that are perfect for a more relaxed, peaceful float. One unique feature of the Black River is that even in dry months, the river stays full which makes it a great destination all summer long. 

2. Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes, NY

Seneca Lake is the largest of eleven Finger Lakes in New York, and the deepest lake within the state. Stretching 38 miles, Seneca Lake provides breathtaking scenery and calm waters.

There are various launch points along the lake, with multiple rentals to choose from. Start from the north in Geneva, and enter the lake through the Old Barge Canal. If you enjoy fishing on your kayak trips, there’s plenty of opportunities to land lake trout, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, and more. 

If you plan a longer camping trip, you can begin your journey from the south in Watkins Glen. Spend the day exploring waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park and take advantage of the guided kayak tours to learn more about the Cayuga-Seneca Canal and catch sightings of blue herons.

3. Kunjamuk River, Speculator, NY

Kunjamuk River, NY by Andy Arthur (CC BY 2.0)

The Kunjamuk River is considered one of the most pristine rivers in the Adirondack Park and is noted for its calm, slow-moving waters. This makes it a great float for beginners or those just out to enjoy a leisurely float through nature.

Because of the ease of the float and the calm nature of the river, it can make for a very busy float as it is a highly sought-after destination. The Kunjamuk River does not disappoint when it comes to scenery and natural beauty.

Entering the river on the boat ramp at the Village Park picnic area is your best bet for ease of access. Kayaking upstream for about 5 miles will bring you to Elm Lake which is a popular turnaround spot. This will also take you by a steel bridge that marks the entrance of the Kunjamuk Cave. Be sure to take a detour and disembark here to enjoy this natural wonder!

Whether you are a seasoned kayaker or just testing your skills out for the first time, kayaking the Kunjamuk River is a must for its beauty and overall ambiance.

4. Indian River and Lakes, NY

The Indian River in Indian Lake, NY, has over seventy-five miles of kayak-friendly waters that are also reported to have excellent fishing. Along this stretch of river, you will find public access to 15 natural lakes that are worth taking a detour to explore. Most of these lakes have a limit of 10hp for motorboats, so it is perfect for kayaking.

The Indian River is slow-moving which makes for a very tranquil float. It is important to note that there is a 25 mile stretch of the river that is restricted as it runs along the Fort Drum Military Reservation. However, a permit can be acquired free of charge to float this section of the river if desired.

If you are interested in multi-tasking and doing some fishing while enjoying a peaceful kayaking excursion, the Indian River will meet your needs. Not only does it offer the opportunity to do some river fishing, but you also have the chance to spur off into one of the 15 natural lakes and try your hand in some deeper waters.

5. Fulton Chain Lakes, Old Forge, NY

The Fulton Chain Lakes consists of eight lakes in the Adirondack Park in Upstate New York.

This string of lakes ends at the Old Forge dam and expands across 3,481 acres. The Fulton Chain Lakes are most popular among pontoon boaters, kayakers, and motorboats.

Because of the vast coverage of the chain of lakes, it makes for an ideal, relaxing kayak trip as your main objective is going to be traveling from cove to cove at your own pace. When kayaking in an area that is popular among motorboats, it is important to remain aware of your surroundings and the dangers of being around large vessels traveling in each direction. 

Kayaking the Fulton Chain Lakes is a great way to familiarize yourself with a kayak if you are a beginner or if you only want to put forth minimal effort on your voyage.

6. The Niagara River, Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, NY

This list wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include the Niagara River. The Niagara River is known for the Niagara Falls that splits the United States and Canada border. This is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the state of New York which means it’s a great opportunity to do some sightseeing and kayaking all in one.

Due to unpredictable water, strong currents, and mass amounts of water, kayaking the upper Niagara River between Peace Bridge and International Railroad bridge is highly discouraged unless you are an expert kayaker. This stretch of the river is considered to be the most dangerous section of the Niagara River.

But, if you are looking for a more beginner-friendly section, floating in the lower section is your best bet. This section of the river is much calmer and you even have the opportunity to see a piece of history along the way as you can stop by Old Fort Niagara. 

7. Genesee River Gorge, Rochester, NY

The Genesee River Gorge is an opportunity not to be missed by kayakers. This float stretches 4 miles through the city of Rochester, New York, and offers a quiet escape from the bustling city above.

The Genesee River is a tributary of Lake Ontario and flows through Pennsylvania into New York. The river played an important part in the development of the city of Rochester as it provided power to the mills in the area in the 19th century. The Genesee still provides hydroelectric power to downtown Rochester. 

The Genesee River Gorge is the perfect kayaking destination for individuals looking to relax on the water and catch some sun in the early afternoon, then experience some night-life in the evening. It is recommended you book your kayak rentals early as this is a very popular kayaking destination.

8. Hudson River, Sleepy Hollow, NY

Rounding off our list of the best kayaking spots in New York is the Hudson River. The Hudson River flows through eastern New York and is an impressive 315 miles long. Enriched with history, this river offers multiple guided tours for kayakers of all skill levels.

One of the more unique and most popular guided kayak tours on the Hudson is the Sleepy Hollow Tour. These tours are tailored to the individual kayaker’s needs and are perfect for groups. You can expect the tour to last approximately 2 hours, so make sure you wear your sunscreen and bring snacks!

During the Sleepy Hollow tour on the Hudson River, you will learn the story behind “Sleepy Hollow” while enjoying some time on the water. This tour is guided by professionals who ensure you are equipped with everything you need for a successful trip. The tour costs approximately $90 per person, but the experience is priceless.

If the Sleepy Hollow kayak tour is something you’re interested in, be sure and purchase your tickets ahead of time as they sell out fast!

Summing up the Best Places to Kayak in New York State

Whether you prefer to kayak on calm, peaceful waters, or raging rapids, New York state offers a variety of exciting kayaking destinations. Many of these rivers and lakes hold historic value to the state and played a key role in the development of their surrounding cities. 

New York offers waterways that are perfect for solo kayakers or those yearning to get out and enjoy a day on the water with the family. Whatever kayaking style or skill level you fancy, New York has a waterway for you.